Lee retires 20 straight Dodgers in four-hit gem
Phillies lefty twirls eight easy innings; Howard, Ruiz homer
LOS ANGELES -- Cliff Lee did his job on Monday night.
He pitched brilliantly in a 7-0 victory over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, allowing four hits and striking out 10 in eight easy innings to help the Phillies win the first game in a four-game series against a club some believe is the best in the National League.
If A.J. Burnett and Cole Hamels can pitch with similar success Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, and the offense can back them up against some of the toughest pitchers in baseball, the Phillies could begin to resemble a team they believed they could be before the season started.
"Set the tone," Phillies manager Ryne Sandeberg said. "Cliff definitely did that tonight."
Lee is 2-2 with a 1.20 ERA in his last four starts after allowing eight runs in five innings on Opening Day. In 30 innings over those four starts, he has allowed 33 hits, four earned runs, one walk and has struck out 37.
"He's evolved over the years," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He's throwing more changeups, the curveball in different ways. He's using more pitches. He used to be simple -- stuff and location. He doesn't throw quite as hard, but it doesn't seem to matter a whole lot."
Lee's fastball has lost about 1 mph of velocity since last season, but it hasn't affected his results.
He bested Dodgers left-hander Paul Maholm in the opener, but the Dodgers' pitching gets tougher for the rest of this series. Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu (3-1, 1.93 ERA) takes the mound on Tuesday, right-hander Zack Greinke (3-0, 2.42 ERA) on Wednesday and right-hander Dan Haren (3-0, 2.16 ERA) pitches Thursday's finale.
"It'll definitely be a test for us," Lee said.
Lee not only pitched well, he enjoyed some rare run support. His 3.82 run-support average since he rejoined the Phillies before the 2011 season is the fifth-lowest in baseball.
The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Tony Gwynn Jr. walked and Jimmy Rollins reached on a popup single that dropped between center fielder Matt Kemp, right fielder Yasiel Puig and second baseman Justin Turner, with Puig getting a glove on the ball at the last second.
Carlos Ruiz followed two batters later with a double to right field to clear the bases.
Ruiz entered the night hitting .204 with no RBIs. He finished the night 3-for-4 with a walk and four RBIs after hitting his first home run in the ninth inning.
"It can happen," Ruiz said. "When you don't swing the bat real good, it's hard to get some RBIs. For me, I've been working the count and go from there. If I was thinking I don't have an RBI, I'd be putting pressure on myself. So I had to stay strong and continue to work hard."
The Phillies employed some nice defense early. Puig stood on second base with two outs in the first when Adrian Gonzalez hit a ground ball up the middle. Second baseman Chase Utley caught it, moving to his right. Puig ran to third, but never looked up and kept running for home. Utley, having no play at first, threw home.
The throw arrived early and Ruiz ran Puig back toward third base before tagging him out to end the inning.
It looked similar to a play in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. The Rays had Jason Bartlett on second base with two outs when Akinori Iwamura hit a ball up the middle. Utley fielded the ball and faked a throw to first, which got the Rays third-base coach to send Bartlett home. Utley threw to the plate and Ruiz applied the tag to prevent the go-ahead run from scoring.
"It was definitely advanced," Lee said of Utley's heads-up play. "That just shows he's one step ahead of the game. Maybe he could get the guy at first, but he had a pretty good idea of how Puig would be running the bases and he was dead on. He was aggressively rounding third and going home. He anticipated that and got him out. That's advanced. That just shows how he's one step ahead and a prime example of the kind of player he is."
The Phillies kept piling on Maholm. Ruiz, who doubled to left in the third, walked with two outs in the fifth. Ryan Howard followed and crushed a first-pitch slider to center field for a two-run home run to make it 4-0.
It was Howard's fifth homer in 19 games. He is on pace for 42 homers and 102 RBIs. He did not hit his fifth homer until his 28th game last season.
"He's swinging it well, using the whole field," Sandberg said. "He's swinging at strikes. He's on a good roll. When he squares it up like that, his ball has good carry. The park played big tonight. He has a real good approach right now with lefties, focusing on hitting the ball up the middle."
Now the trick for the Phillies is finding some consistency. This is the third time they have won back-to-back games this season, but a victory Tuesday would push them back to .500 for the first time since they completed a sweep of the Marlins on April 13.
"First, we're happy with the game today," Ruiz said. "Tomorrow we have A.J. We need to concentrate on the game tomorrow, come back with the same mentality and try to play real hard and score some runs for him and make him feel relaxed on the mound."